Christopher Henderson-West initially met with vogue instructor London Lewis to bring vogue workshops to Emerson. About a month after their initial conversation, Henderson-West and Lewis threw the first Emerson Vogue Kiki Ball, earning the Haus of Emerson the title of first-ever collegiate ballroom house in the U.S.
Senior and president of Emerson’s Advancement Group for Love and Expression, Henderson-West became Selane DeHeaux Darling, the Haus of Emerson mother—leading the house while providing guidance and support to its members. Lewis is the father of the House of Mulan, a KiKi scene-based vogue ballroom house. Together, they created an event featuring competitions where groups called houses perform in categories such as face, runway, and vogue.
“We both had the same vision, and that’s when we knew right then it was a good fit and that we were doing something real different,” Lewis said.
The Haus of Emerson hopes to educate people on the history of voguing, an LGBTQ+ subculture where participants are mainly young people of color performing on the stage.
“We’re hoping it’ll bring awareness and strengthen the community, and so far the responses from the scene have been very good,” Henderson-West said. “We have also gotten a few messages from other schools on what they want to do; in a similar fashion, they’re looking to start their own houses.”
During the planning process, the founders said they realized that this had never been officially done by a college.
“I was shook, because I hadn’t heard of anything like it,” Henderson-West said.“The way I found out was that I asked [Lewis] and he asked some of the other house mothers and fathers about it, and they said, ‘Yeah there has never been a college-based ballroom house,’ and we were all really surprised.”
The title of the first collegiate vogue ballroom house nationwide comes with uncertainty, Henderson-West said, but also creates opportunities for the founders to pave their own path in the scene.
“I’m not sure exactly what it means in terms of the long-standing impact of the title, but I know that we have our ideas in terms of what we want it to mean, in terms of really helping the community grow and become stronger,” Henderson-West said. “We want to educate people on the history of this queer subculture that’s often appropriated and whitewashed with mainstream audiences.”
Lewis assisted in every step of planning and carrying out the event and said he can’t wait for what comes next.
“I hope to be coming back to Emerson this upcoming year quite frequently, throwing workshops, balls and also getting [the Haus of Emerson] to come out to the balls in the main scene happening all over the United States,” Lewis said. “And hopefully in the future I’m trying to plan college tours too, so Emerson can show other colleges how they can expand and became a part of ballroom culture.”
Auditions will be held on Sept. 7 for those interested in joining the house. In addition, the Haus of Emerson hopes to work with Intercultural Student Affairs to have regular vogue workshops.
The Haus of Emerson also plans on participating in runway and face categories at the Porcelain Ball, a main scene vogue ball, according to Henderson-West.
“We’re also preparing for a ball on [Sept. 7] that we’re going to make a part of the audition process,” Henderson-West said. “And there’s a major ball in New York called the Porcelain Ball, hosted by the Haus of Miyake Mugler, and Rihanna is going to be there judging, so we’re preparing for that as well.”
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Sharon Duffy is the Haus of Emerson’s official godmother. She said she is excited to be able to provide support to the house as they grow.
“I would envision taking on this godmother role very much in the same way that a godparent may, to be making sure these traditions are being passed from one generation to the next and that there’s a space and opportunities,” Duffy said. “But really letting the students take the lead of where they want to go with this.”
During a conversation with Tamia Jordan, director of intercultural student affairs, Duffy discussed the goals the faculty hopes the Haus of Emerson will achieve.
“We would love to have our students competing in other KiKi balls as well to really see the wide range of talent, culture, and music, and get a real appreciation for this art form, to bring an awareness and education of these different cultures to light,” Duffy said. “And I’d hope our colleagues and other students at colleges in the local area would get interested too.”
Lewis said he is excited about the progress the Haus of Emerson members have made so far and what their future as a house will look like.
“[The Haus of Emerson] is rising so well and so beautifully,” Lewis said. “I’m just so proud of them and their growth, and we’ve definitely got some secrets coming up shortly.”